Regina city council voted Wednesday to licence and see tougher enforcement for body rub establishments in the city.
The 8-3 vote came after lengthy debate, with the majority of residents at city council speaking against the licencing.
Body rub establishments are facilities where sexual services can sometimes be provided.
After listening to concerns, council decided licencing helps ensure some level of harm reduction.
“I’m not really excited about body rub parlours in my community, but I want to make sure folks are looked after and that education is involved,” said Coun. Mike O’Donnell, during the meeting.
“This is not just for workers, but for the community in its entirety. That’s part of that model and at least it’s a start.”
The changes mean establishments will be required to obtain licences at a cost of $1,200 annually. Workers will also be required to obtain a licence.
Establishment owners will go through criminal record checks, and staff and workers would have to partake in education sessions.
Here are comments from April Eve Pearl Wiberg, who experienced sexual exploitation while working in a body rub establishment. She said licencing doesn't shield providers from degradation. #yqrcc pic.twitter.com/hl1WyWm16G— Jeremy Simes (@JeremySimes) September 2, 2020
Workers must attend education sessions yearly, learning about safety, sexual health and ways to identify human trafficking.
As well, they will learn about overdose awareness, programs that address sexual violence, and ways they can exit the industry.
Despite the go-ahead, some councillors said they couldn’t support licencing.
“It doesn’t make sense, this doesn’t sit well with me,” said Coun. John Findura. “I see it as allowing someone to make money for someone else’s suffering.”
Some councillors had attempted to halt the licencing rules. They pushed for ways to implement a ban, which would have allowed city administration to do further consultations with police.
However, those opposed said the issue has been consulted at length, and that police have said the status-quo hasn’t worked.
“They’ve said this approach is a better window into the industry and to deal with sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence embedded in this industry,” said Coun. Andrew Stevens.
Mayor Michael Fougere, who supported the licencing, suggested it allows police to at least better investigate the establishments.
“To not do that (licencing) puts at risk the workers who are in these establishments,” he said. “This better opens the door and to look inside, rather than have that door shut and not know what is going on.”
MANY RESIDENTS OPPOSED
Multiple residents urged council to not licence the facilities.
“I am appalled by the idea of it. I do not understand which messages and values we want to promote as a city,” said resident Isabelle Henault. “As a woman myself, I feel disrespected and unsafe.”
Resident Ed Smith, whose 18-year-old daughter was murdered in 1990 while being sex trafficked across Western Canada, said the city is putting itself in a position of approving an illegal activity.
Many speakers suggested the licencing doesn’t adhere to federal law.
However, past cases have seen Ontario courts side with municipalities when it comes to licencing.
SURVIVORS SHARE STORIES
April Eve Pearl Wiberg, who was sexually exploited in a body rub facility, said licencing these facilities doesn’t save lives or ensure a safe environment.
She said licencing only protects owners of the facilities, and provides a toxic environment that perpetuates organized crime.
“As an advocate for missing, murdered and exploited Indigenous people, I believe this harmful industry is a leading factor in the national missing, murdered and exploited Indigenous women and girls crisis,” Wiberg told city council.
“As an Indigenous survivor of sexual exploitation, I know first hand the harmful effects of the so-called sex industry.”
Wiberg said she was liberated from sexual exploitation 15 years ago, but she continues to suffer from PTSD, severe anxiety and depression.
“It was a very difficult transition exiting out of prostitution,” she said. “There were very few resources.”
Andrea Heinz, who left Edmonton’s sex trade industry, wrote to council saying licencing won’t ensure safety.
“Licencing does not have the ability to protect the physical and emotional violence that occurs to service providers behind closed doors,” she wrote.
“A licence does not stop incidents such as buyers choking providers, secretly filming them during sex acts, stalking them at their workplace, or following them home.”
She told council there are other ways to deal with the issue.
She said the city could create a task force to develop harm reduction strategies, hire a social worker to connect people with services, and provide financial assistance for people being sexually exploited.
As well, she recommended providers voluntarily register with RCMP.
MORE DETAILS OF THE NEW RULES
The parlours are only allowed in heavy and light industrial zones in the city.
As well, there can be no locks on doors in body rub parlours. Workers must also have access to a panic button in massage rooms.
Two workers would be required to work in the building at all times, and advertising and signage must include the licence number of the facility.
If owners and operators break rules, their licences can be revoked, and they could face steeper fines should they operate illegally.
Individuals can be fined up to $10,000 and corporations could be slapped with up to $25,000.
Administration will come back next year with a report on how the licencing has impacted the city.
HERE IS HOW COUNCIL VOTED
- Mayor Michael Fougere.
- Coun. Barbara Young.
- Coun. Bob Hawkins.
- Coun. Andrew Stevens.
- Coun. Mike O’Donnell.
- Coun. Jason Mancinelli.
- Coun. Lori Bresciani.
- Coun. John Findura.
- Coun. Sharron Bryce.